Yorkshire promised to host the greatest ever start to the Tour de France as it unveiled two routes that will stretch the world’s best cyclists to their limits and inject at least £100m into the region’s economy.
The 18-month countdown to the 2014 Tour’s Grand Départ in Leeds started at the British Embassy in Paris, when the two opening stages of the world’s most prestigious bicycle race were revealed.
Stage one will take a 190km (118m) route from Leeds city centre, through the Yorkshire Dales, and end in Harrogate.
The second stage will begin in York and loop down for 200km (124m) through West Yorkshire to end in Sheffield. The Tour will then go south for a third Cambridge-to-London stage, before returning to the continent.
Civic leaders, MPs and communities hailed Yorkshire’s capture of the opening stage of the Tour de France as a huge coup.
While the Grand Départ is expected to cost the region about £10m to stage, organisers expect it to pump more than £100m into Yorkshire’s economy, plus buy it priceless global publicity and leave a “lasting legacy”.
The Grand Départ will also coincide with an arts festival, plus brings the promise of investment in its cycle infrastructure.
“For those people who think it’s just about a bike ride, they’re going to have an amazing surprise,” said councillor Keith Wakefield, leader of Leeds Council and a keen cyclist.
“This is a dream of a lifetime to hold the biggest annual sporting event on your doorstep. It’s going to lift the mood of the country as well as the region.
“We have the passion and the commitment to deliver the best Grand Départ in the history of the Tour.”
He was one of a number of council leaders and chief executives who travelled to Paris for the route launch and later jetted back to Leeds.
Last night they welcomed a host of sporting heroes and celebrities to a dinner at Leeds Town Hall – including Britain’s first ever winner of a Tour de France stage, Yorkshireman Brian Robinson.
Attracting the Grand Depart was the culmination of two-and-a-half years’ planning and courtship of race organisers Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) by tourism body Welcome to Yorkshire.
Yorkshire’s Back Le Bid campaign beat rival bids from Scotland, Florence, Barcelona, Berlin and Venice.
Gary Verity, chief executive of Welcome to Yorkshire, said: “We want to put Yorkshire on the map of international cycling.
“Ours is a land of stunning landscapes and proud, passionate people. We are a country within a county with an identity to rival other nations.”
Mr Verity said based on Scotland’s estimate, the cost of staging the Tour is expected to be “less than £10m”.
“We are going to get 10 times that return as an immediate impact,” he said. “But much more than that, it’s the legacy in hearts and minds.”
The new Leeds Arena will host the presentation of the teams on July 3, 2014, before the first stage begins in the city on July 5. It will pass Harewood House, carve through Otley, Ilkley and Skipton, head north to the outer limits of the Yorkshire Dales, before returning south east via Ripon to finish in Harrogate.
Stage two begins in York, passes west through Harrogate , then heading south past Keighley, Huddersfield, Holmfirth and ending in Sheffield.
“It’s hard to understand quite what a coup this is,” said Tom Riordan, chief executive of Leeds Council.
“We were up against a government-backed Scottish bid and we won against the odds.
“I think this will open up doors for us that we’ve not been able to do in the past.
“We’ve effectively bought everyone’s tickets. It’s free – everybody who wants to see this will be able to get to the side of the road.”